John Timmer, senior science editor at Ars Technica, editorializes about the state of science articles on Wikipedia, writing "Wikipedia fails as an encyclopedia, to science’s detriment": "Disturbingly, all of the worst entries I have ever read have been in the sciences. Wander off the big ideas in the sciences, and you're likely to run into entries that are excessively technical and provide almost no context, making them effectively incomprehensible." According to Timmer, Wikipedia articles on many subjects are well-written and accessible to the lay reader. However, science articles are largely impenetrable to these readers. Of one typical example, he writes that "it descends into a mass of incomprehensible equations, sporadically interspersed with impenetrable jargon." Many of them appear to assume that the reader already has an advanced science background. "In other words, they're probably only useful for people who would never have to read them anyway."
Timmer posits that this is a negative influence on the state of science literacy, especially in the United States. He suggests that "one potential partial solution is to have more of the population feel that scientific knowledge is approachable, and scientific reasoning is intuitive", but inaccessible Wikipedia articles have the opposite effect: "They suggest that quantum mechanics is completely impenetrable. That evolutionary biology is just a bunch of jargon. That math involves little more than a bunch of random stipulations. More generally, they indicate that it's something that has to be left to the experts and is inaccessible to anyone without arcane knowledge." (Dec. 29) G
Jimmy Wales returns to United Arab Emirates
Jimmy Wales will deliver a keynote speech at Ericsson's Change Makers Forum in Dubai on January 10, as reported by Arabian Business and Emirates247. The event is held under the patronage of Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai's ruling Al Maktoum family.
A year ago, Wales came under fire for accepting a $500,000 cash prize from Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and constitutional monarch of Dubai (see previous Signpost coverage). Critics pointed out the country's poor human rights record. According to Human Rights Watch,
|The United Arab Emirates (UAE) often uses its affluence to mask the government's serious human rights problems. The government arbitrarily detains individuals it perceives as posing a threat, and a new counterterrorism law poses a further threat to dissidents and rights activists. Security forces have been implicated in torturing detainees in pretrial detention, authorities have invoked repressive laws to prosecute critics of the government. Labor abuses persist, as migrant construction workers facing serious exploitation, including on one of the country's most high-profile projects. Female domestic workers are excluded from regulations that apply to workers in other sectors.
(Dec. 29–30) AK
Is Wikipedia dying?
In The New Republic, Jeet Heer concludes that "Wikipedia is dying". Heer bases this on "a new academic paper" recently linked to on the blog of economist Tyler Cowan. The paper, "The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System: How Wikipedia’s reaction to popularity is causing its decline", appeared in the May 2013 issue of American Behavioral Scientist and its lead author was Aaron Halfaker, senior research scientist at the Wikimedia Foundation. The paper was discussed in the September 2012 edition of the Signpost's Recent Research. Heer writes "The paper suggests the main reason is that, when it expanded rapidly between 2004 and 2007, Wikipedia responded by instituting restrictive policies that drove away eager new volunteers" and concluded by quoting the paper: "Over time, these changes resulted in a new Wikipedia, in which newcomers are rudely greeted by automated quality control systems and are overwhelmed by the complexity of the rule system." (Dec. 31) G
The first mention of Wikipedia on National Public Radio
"First Mention" is a recurring segment on All Things Considered which looks at when the first time a now-ubiquitous word or phrase was used for the first time on National Public Radio. The latest segment discusses the first mention of Wikipedia, which occurred on January 17, 2003, two days after Wikipedia's third anniversary. Ira Flatow was interviewing open source advocate Bruce Perens, who told listeners about a website that was so new to them that he had to spell the name of it:
|I have a site I'd like people to go to. It's called wikipedia.org - W-I-K-I-P-E-D-I-A dot org. What would you think if someone said, well, I'm going to write an encyclopedia with my friends in my spare time? That's what these people are doing, essentially, one individual, one article at a time. They have 80 or 90,000 encyclopedia articles that they're working on.
The English Wikipedia hit 100,000 articles four days later, on January 21, 2003. (Dec. 31) G